Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

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County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in California

By Stan Sinberg. He is a San Francisco-based writer who has worked as a columnist, satirist, and radio commentator.

The job of Los Angeles County supervisor is considered one of the nation’s most powerful positions in local government. Perhaps that’s why Hilda Solis, former U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration, is running in the First District. After all, cabinet-level positions aren’t usually stepping stones to a county board seat.

But Los Angeles County has an estimated population of 10 million – that’s a quarter of all Californians, and enough people to qualify as the country’s eighth-biggest state. Its annual budget of $25 billion exceeds the gross national product of some countries in the developing world. Yet the power and responsibility for L.A. County’s operations is vested in just five supervisors.

The position is not for the timid. Los Angeles supervisors can, with as few as three votes, make far-reaching decisions that affect a multitude of communities. The county provides a vast array of services to its residents, including social services, property assessment, Medi-Cal services, and public safety, to name a few. The board has executive and legislative powers, as well as a “quasijudicial” role when it acts as an appeals board for certain zoning cases of the regional planning commission.

The board of supervisors determines how best to implement and oversee numerous policies, be they environmental in nature – such as water treatment or protecting beaches, coastal areas, and the Santa Monica Mountains, which run right through the city of Los Angeles – or managing alternative energy sources, making light rail feasible and attractive for commuters, expanding affordable housing, or providing social services to the needy. Additionally, the board appoints officers to unelected positions, which include the public defender, county clerk, registrar of voters, schools superintendent, and chief of the largest probation department in the world (50 facilities, more than 6,500 employees, 12,000 state parolees, and 60,000 adult probationers).

All 88 cities within the county’s borders have some contracts with Los Angeles County for the municipal services it provides, everything from weed abatement to health ordinance enforcement. The board also acts as the “city council” for 1 million people living in roughly 140 unincorporated areas of the county. The supervisor representing each district is the “mayor” for those communities.

Indeed, a place on the L.A. County board is about as close to a fiefdom as an elected office can get – the supervisors have been dubbed the “five little kings.” Which means there’s not much turnover: Collectively, the current members have held their seats for more than 100 years, notwithstanding that the most-junior member, Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, only assumed office in 2008. Incumbents have rarely been challenged, and until term limits were passed in 2002, it seemed as though supervisors could hold office for as long as they liked. (Because the maximum of three consecutive four-year terms wasn’t retroactive, Yaroslavsky didn’t have to count his first eight years on the board.)

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